Characters who made a Barrow pub special
THE publication of Alan Wilkinson’s new book on Barrow’s beer houses has prompted Brian Moore and Stan Henderson to take an affectionate look at some of the many characters who have enjoyed a drink in just one of the more than 100 places to feature in the book. They write:
What a shame that Hindpool’s one-time most popular watering hole the Wheatsheaf Inn should suffer the same fate as several other town centre public houses.
During 2015 to 2016 it was renovated and turned into luxury apartments.
The pub was, for over half a century, the regular haunt of iron and steelworkers, also the second home of many Barrow RLFC players – it was, in essence, a rugby pub.
Built in 1862 it was first licensed to serve beer in February 1873 and then granted a wine licence a year later.
The Wheatsheaf at No 2 Anson Street was immediately next door to beer house The Old House at Home at No 4.
This was closed down in 1929 allowing the ‘Sheaf to extend into the vacant No. 4 premises.
It was offered for sale in October 1878 at a property auction held at the Bull Hotel on Paxton Street with the reserve price set at £475.
In the event it was “knocked down” to Edwin Dawson, of Burton-on-Trent, for £820.
The high-price was commented on in the local press.
According to Alice Leach in The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, the building was owned at one point by a Mr Sutton – possibly Daniel - who was one of the overseers on the Bessemer Plant at Barrow Steelworks.
He apparently rode to work on a black horse with a solid silver harness.
Sutton also owned two other town centre pubs.
The inn was acquired by the Truman brewery during 1898 with new tenant Mrs Sarah Cranshaw taking up residence on July 9.
In 1931 the pub became the first in the history of the town to be granted a licence to host live music.
From the end of the Second World War the place became, arguably, the most popular destination in the town.
Folk would queue outside on a Sunday lunchtime to imbibe its quality beers and ribald humour.
The aim being to secure a seat in the singing room where pianist-entertainer Vic Dempsey, drummer Jimmy Kitchen and harmonica player Larry Moore, (Barrow’s Larry Adler) would knock ‘em dead!
In these times the Wheatsheaf attracted the cream of the town’s local talent.
Names like key-board player Frank Vicary; Joey Dickinson; Ged Coulter; George Philips; Sheila Carter, even Billy West, the town’s Al Jolson, made appearances.
Occasionally some of the acts appearing at the 99 Club during the 1960s (including compere Tommy Halfpenny), would make an appearance.
Two names that come to mind are Millie Small, (My Boy Lollipop), and Irish tenor Josef Locke, who, on one occasion stayed in a caravan across Hindpool Road in Sam Morgan’s scrap-yard.
One of the most popular local figures during the 1960s was Derek “Peo” Pearson.
Derek, a pocket-tenor for many years in local amateur productions, restricted his singing to the bar area – which would bounce during his renditions of Rodgers and Hammerstein classics, usually with alternative lyrics!
Peo would nearly always be in the company of his employer, local butcher, John Fisher.
Mine Hosts, from sometime during the Second World War, were Gladys and George “Jock” Lumsden who ran the business with mother-in-law Mrs “Ma” Ritson and daughter Agnes.
No-one outside of the family was allowed behind the bar.
During peak times of business Ma could be heard to call out – wheel ‘em in.
The waitress of a weekend, when the singing room was open, was Marjorie Moore.
She was Barrow’s one-time mayoress, being the daughter of mayor Mrs Winn.
Marjorie was unbelievable! She could carry a tray of 10 or 12 pints with one hand and could also remember every drinks order without having to write them down.
Perhaps the most well-known post-war character was ‘enfant terrible’ Eric Finlay. aka “the Fin”.
Eric was a wit known for his racy monologues – which he would deliver with gusto on most Saturday nights.
When sufficiently primed he would start-off the evening with: “Inn-Keeper, inn-keeper fill my men’s tankards, water my horses and throw another log cabin on the fire.”
Among the bar regulars during the 1960s were: Len Finlay, Bobby Little, Roger Moffatt, Bill Wookey, Alfie Hadwin, Mick Ducie, Ivor Kelland, Ray and Geoff McGuire, Charlie Gill, Charlie Cole, Spider Kelly, Alan Thompson aka “the Duff”, Jim and Les Cresswell Amos “Yorkie” Whitehead, Bill Vickers, Joe Douglas, Dennis Chelton, Tommy Grizedale, Dick McPhillips, young Stan Henderson and John Baker.
Occupying the bar extension, the TV end, were: Owen and Billy Daley, Ronny Warriner, Harry Goodwin, Bill “Napper” Cooksey, “Dollar” Smith; the Ducie twins Ged and Jimmy, Cliff Brown and John Bell.
An indication as to the quality of the beer -the bitter was known widely as jungle-juice - was the absence of keg beers and draught lagers on sale.
Other pubs in these days offered such as Whitbread Tankard, Watney’s Red Barrel, draught Guinness and at least one draught lager.
The only draught brews on offer down the ‘Sheaf, were Truman’s mild or best-bitter.
Jock never stocked ordinary bitter. He knew his customer base, the ale was like cream and was what the punters wanted – they were constantly being reminded by prominent posters to get on the trail of the hoppiest-ale.
As well as being a house of fun the pub also had a negative side.
It had been the cause of many unhappy marriages and break-ups.
Thursday, for many years in Barrow, was pay-day for the majority of men who were on weekly pay and the first port of call, for some, after finishing work at 5pm was the bar of the ‘Sheaf.
There were tearful women outside of the entrance to the bar asking patrons to see if their man was in the bar.
They obviously needed some house-keeping money to buy food.
On rare occasions a wife would walk into the bar and deposit a cooked meal over some drunken husband’s head.
Then on lunchtimes at weekends some of the local gardeners would wait outside selling fresh flowers, peace offerings for hapless hubby to take home!
Other Truman houses in Barrow were the Britannia in Church Street; the Derby in Dalton Road and the Whitehouse on Abbey Road.
During the Lumsden’s tenure the Wheatsheaf was a very lucrative concern.
This was despite not having a food offering; loud music; trendy drinks or any gimmicks.
During the mid-1970s the Lumsdens retired - slyly, for some reason, avoiding a farewell buffet that had been laid on.
Bill Taylor, who had been landlord of the Abbey Tavern, took over but over the next decade or so the place went into a gradual decline.
Sometime during 1992 an enthusiastic Mike Fallon became landlord.
He undertook some interior modifications and once again the pub became a popular draw.
The Beer Houses Barrow in Furness, by Alan Wilkinson, is available from bookshops